Monday, 17 March 2014

Studying the bacteria inside buildings

A survey of bacteria in a University of Oregon building reveals that architecture influences the indoor microbiome. Patterns vary by age, space, locale and, surprisingly, architecture.

Different aspects of a building’s design and use, including the number of doors per room, its average occupancy, and the way air circulates, can each influence the makeup of the bacterial communities that occupy buildings, according to a study published in the journal PLOS One (titled "Architectural Design Drives the Biogeography of Indoor Bacterial Communities").

The research was undertaken by scientists based at the University of Oregon’s Biology and the Built Environment Center. For their study, the scientists vacuumed up dust samples from around the university’s Lillis Hall, then analyzed bacterial DNA from the samples to estimate microbial diversity.

Talking to Popular Science, lead researcher Jessica Green said: “What we did in our paper was ask this really fundamental question. Given this hypothesis that is becoming more and more actualized—that the indoor microbiome is important to health—do we have any control over what kind of microbes are indoors or out?”

The researchers identified nearly 33,000 different major groups of bacteria in its survey, with different room types comprising a unique microbial composition. Known gut bacteria were common in bathrooms, for example, while offices with windows tended to have more soil- and plant-associated bacterial species.

The impact of these diverse indoor microbiomes on human health is a matter of debate. However, since this is a new area of microbiology, more data collected over time will reveal the impact of 'building bacteria'. Hospitals, for example, are likely to be interested in what bacteria are populating their rooms and hallways, according to the science website Quartz.
Posted by Tim Sandle